What if African Americans were as politically unified as our racial attitudes make us appear to be? Suppose, for instance, we did more than believe that racial discrimination exists but actually used our political and economic muscle to remedy race-specific problems?
There are 42 million African Americans in this country with a combined purchasing power expected to hit $1.1 trillion this year. If Black America were an actual nation state instead of just a shaky state of mind, it would have a population slightly less than Spain’s and rank as the 46th-richest nation in the world, according to a statistical profile published in the Atlantic last year.
And yet, African Americans spent much of 2014 on bended knee — pleading for justice, crying for jobs, begging for equal treatment, with President Obama declaring that “a country’s conscience has to be sometimes triggered” to bring awareness to the killings of unarmed black men and boys by police.
Stand up, Black America.
Leading up to the 2014 midterm elections, President Obama urged his base of support not to sit this one out. Too much was at stake. Black people needed to be as fired up as elderly white Republicans. Yet a poll by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leading up to the elections found that 67 percent of Obama’s base didn’t even know that an election was being held.
No point in complaining about Republicans in Congress now.
An Associated Press survey two years ago found that 56 percent of Americans have explicit “anti-black attitudes” — and the rest don’t love you all that much, either. Harvard University professor Michael I. Norton found last year that many whites now believe anti-white racism is a bigger problem than anti-black bias — the latter having been all but eliminated, they say.
On the most important issues, an NBC News/Marist College poll found last month that 52 percent of whites have a “great deal” of confidence that police officers in their community treat blacks and whites the same, compared with only 12 percent of blacks.
So whose “conscience,” exactly, are black people trying to prick?
The answer ought to be our own. Black people have serious problems, to be sure — extraordinarily high incarceration and homicide rates, for starters. But the resources at our disposal are enormous, if not always used most effectively.
“African Americans make more shopping trips than the average consumer,” reports Target Market News, an authority on black consumer habits. “They are more likely than average to buy beauty and ethnic products, children’s cologne, toiletries for both men and women, frozen meats, and fresh vegetables and grains.”
We have sweet-smelling kids but no major black-owned publishing companies that can reflect their sweet little faces in children’s books.
There are fewer than 30 black-owned banks in the country, according to the Federal Reserve, compared with about 130 such institutions at the turn of the 20th century. You’d think black people would be seeking more community-oriented banks as alternatives to the big Wall Street firms that ripped them off during the Great Recession.
Black-owned businesses are the second largest employer of black people, next to the federal government. But only 7 percent of small businesses are owned by blacks. How unfortunate that the president must go hat in hand to Corporate America, asking for $200 million to help black men and boys stay in school and get jobs.
The program is called “My Brother’s Keeper.” Better we start more businesses and hire these black men and boys. Let the brothers keep themselves.
“As shoppers, African Americans are influencers and trendsetters whose purchasing habits affect others,” Target Market News said. “They set trends in their purchase of apparel, autos and food and in their use of social media.”
Surely we can influence more than that.
The Atlantic article cited a speech by the black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, given more than 80 years ago, titled “A Negro Nation Within a Nation.” In it, he declared:
“The peculiar position of Negroes in America offers an opportunity. . . . With the use of their political power, their power as consumers, and their brainpower . . . Negroes can develop in the United States an economic nation within a nation . . . ”
At the very least, we could stop expecting people who hate us to save us.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/courtlandmilloy.